As I went through my cancer treatments, people often said, “You kicked cancer’s ass!” or “You beat cancer!” I always felt a little uncomfortable with these phrases. Frankly, I never felt like I kicked anything’s ass. In fact, during my treatments, I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis. I had no other choice but to keep moving forward, no matter what nasty side effects cancer and my treatments kept throwing at me. Like many people confronting a deadly illness, I would have done anything in the world to get one more day, one more hour, one more minute with my family.
Right now, and hopefully forever, I show no evidence of disease. If it comes back and I am not so lucky the next time around, does that mean that cancer beat me? As I have watched many wonderful, amazing, kind, loving, vibrant human beings die as a result of having had cancer, I never once thought, “Boy, cancer sure beat that person” or “Cancer kicked that person’s ass!” I have only thought how unfair it is that we continue to lose so many wonderful people who fought so fiercely and valiantly for so long.
I know the people who say these things are doing so out of love and kindness. I have appreciated every single person who has been supportive as I have navigated this journey. I just find the language we use in regards to cancer to be interesting. We don’t hear people talking about “kicking ass” in regards to other illnesses. Yet we often talk about cancer in fighting terms. “Warrior”, “fighter” and “battle” are all terms that we use in regards to cancer, and for good reason. The treatments that we undergo to save our lives continue to be nothing short of barbaric. We undergo extreme surgeries and pump toxins into our bodies in order to save our own lives. It is a battle. We are fighting to for our lives.
Where it makes me squirm a bit is when we start talking in terms of winning and losing. The implication when someone says, “You kicked cancer’s ass” is that somehow I was tougher, stronger, or a better fighter than a person who died as a result of their illness. This is simply not true. I would like to think I am a tough person, but I really attribute the fact that I am still here largely to luck. I got lucky. At least this time around. If my cancer comes back and ultimately kills me, I am still the same person. I am still the same fighter. I am still the same “strong” person with human frailties and vulnerabilities who just wanted to live with ever fiber or her being.
I woke up yesterday to the news that Stuart Scott, of ESPN, had passed away. Stuart Scott had fought cancer since 2007. He gave one of the best speeches about living with cancer that I have ever heard. You can listen to it here.
As Stuart Scott says in his speech, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” I could not agree more. So while I am so saddened that the world has lost Mr. Scott, I never for one minute think cancer beat him. He was an inspiration to so many survivors. He was strong, while not being afraid to express his own human vulnerabilities. He acknowledged that he relied on the support of many people while going through his treatments. I appreciate his honesty about how much we need other people while facing a significant illness, because it is true. He demonstrated that you can be a tough fighter while still needed help from others. He expressed how desperately he wanted to see his children grow up. I can relate to all of the feelings he articulates because I have experienced them myself. Stuart Scott demonstrated how to live a full life in the face of adversity. Cancer did not win. Cancer did not beat Stuart Scott, just as it does not beat any of us who have fought to save our own lives. We will all truly “beat cancer” when we find a cure for the many diseases that fall under the “cancer” umbrella.When we find real cures, then I will rejoice and say, “We really did beat cancer!”